CRISPR nuclease used to rapidly detect RNA/DNA

CRISPR testing for DNA

Date: 23rd September 2019

A synthetic biology based molecular diagnostics platform able to distinguish targets based on a single nucleotide.

We reported in March the launch of Sherlock Bioscience, a start-up engineering biology company located in Cambridge, USA.  Its foundational platform technology, SHERLOCK™ (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing), was developed as a method for identifying specific genetic targets using CRISPR. Together with INSPECTR™ (INternal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction), a synthetic biology based molecular diagnostics platform able to distinguish targets based on a single nucleotide, Sherlock Bioscience are revolutionising the field of diagnostic testing.

Simple, accurate diagnostic testing

With simplicity as a fundamental value, Sherlock’s diagnostic tools are accessible, and require little if any specialist equipment so can be used in virtually any setting.

This month a team led by several of the co-founders of Sherlock Bioscience have published a step-by-step guide for setting up SHERLOCK assays in Nature Protocols .  These assays allowed multiplexed, portable, and ultra-sensitive detection of RNA or DNA from clinically relevant samples.  The results were attained in less than 1 hour with a prep time of less than 15 mins.  A pre-amplification stage of the nucleic acids was combined with CRISPR–Cas enzymology. The CRISPR’s recognised specific genetic signatures in a sample, when the signature was detected the CRISPR enzyme was activated releasing a signal.  This signal was quantified in several ways, as a fluorescent or colourmetric readout, read by a paper strip, lab equipment or even a mobile phone.

Technical highlights

The speed, sensitivity and portability of this technique highlight attractive potential for the technology both in the clinic and across more remote applications where centralised resources are limiting.

It will be interesting to see how the technology can be applied and we will be keeping you updated with further developments.

For more information on Sherlock Bioscience please check out our synthetic biology maps


Kellner, M. J., J. G. Koob, J. S. Gootenberg, O. O. Abudayyeh and F. Zhang (2019). “SHERLOCK: nucleic acid detection with CRISPR nucleases.” Nature Protocols.